IRVING, Texas (AP) — Jerry Jones never wanted to change coaches this season. As the blowout losses mounted, and Wade Phillips’ defense was mostly to blame, the owner-general manager of the Dallas Cowboys had no choice.
Jones fired Phillips on Monday and promoted offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to take over the 1-7 club on an interim basis. Defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni was promoted to replace Phillips’ other role as defensive coordinator.
“I recognized that after the game we just weren’t playing winning football and our best chance was to make a change,” Jones said. “We are grateful to Wade and his contribution to the Cowboys, leading us. We also clearly understand we are not where we want to be at this time, and that’s an understatement. We share the responsibility — all of us.”
It’s the first time Dallas has made an in-season coaching change. Garrett becomes the first former Cowboys player to take over the job previously held by the likes of Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells.
Jones decided enough was enough following a 45-7 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night. It was the Cowboys’ fifth straight loss, and the third straight game that the defense allowed at least 35 points. That hadn’t happened since going 0-11-1 in the franchise’s inaugural season, 1960. Stranger still, the unit — personally overseen by Phillips — features nearly all the same players who closed last season with the first back-to-back shutouts in club history.
Jones steadfastly supported Phillips throughout the tailspin, even saying late last week that Phillips would keep the job the rest of the year. The first five losses had all been by a touchdown or less, which showed players were still fighting. But three straight lopsided losses prompted Jones to declare Monday he’d been “in denial” about just how bad the club really is.
“It really was paramount in my thinking that we would make adjustments and have our defense more productive and demonstrate a correction,” he said. “But I really might not be sitting here today if we had gone and played well against Jacksonville … and then we’d gone to Green Bay and played lights out defensively.”
This is the Cowboys’ worst season since 1989 and among the worst in franchise history by record alone. It could go down as the worst ever considering Dallas was coming off a division title and a playoff win, and was expected to contend for the Super Bowl that’ll be held at Cowboys Stadium.
“I told (players) they should not think this an admission of defeat or finality in this season. We have eight games left and we have one goal — to win.”
Jones was clearly unhappy and uncomfortable. He spoke slower than usual, with longer pauses to collect his thoughts, and fiddled with his glasses throughout a 22-minute news conference.
He called Phillips “somebody we thought so much of” and “a good friend, as well.” He wouldn’t provide details of his conversation with Phillips, and became emotional as he described breaking the news to the team. He said the focus of that speech was accountability.
“I spoke of the realization that it’s not just about yourself,” Jones said. “It impacts others.”
The 63-year-old Phillips went 34-22 over 4½ seasons, plus 1-2 in the postseason. Dallas won the NFC East twice on his watch.
He released a statement thanking the fans and the Jones family “for all of the support” and thanked his coaches and players “for their loyalty and dedication.”
“I told the team today that I have been proud to be a part of their family and that will never change,” Phillips said. “I am disappointed in the results of this season to this point, but I am also very proud of what our team and our players accomplished in the previous three years. In good times and difficult times, our players stuck together and never lost hold of their belief in each other and the strong team bond that they have shared.”
Jones couldn’t make Garrett the permanent coach right now even if he wanted to because of the Rooney Rule, which requires interviewing minority candidates. Yet this obviously gives Garrett a chance to show what he can do starting Sunday on the road against the New York Giants.
“If we do outstanding as a team and we have very visible, tangible success, then certainly that’s doing your job, if you will, in a crisis situation,” Jones said. “That kind of action goes beyond a resume.”
Jones added that wins and losses won’t be the determining factor.
“I want to see the kind of effort (involved) in playing to win — extraordinary effort, that you might not expect to see on a team that’s 1-7 right now,” Jones said.
It’s worth noting that Garrett’s unit hasn’t been much better than Phillips’, and that goes back to before starting quarterback Tony Romo broke his collarbone on Oct. 25. However, he was No. 2 on the coaching depth chart and Jones has always thought highly of him. He’s been viewed as the team’s coach-in-waiting since he was hired — days before Phillips was hired, in fact.
“I do believe Jason has the temperament, he has the disposition to affect a culture change,” Jones said. “I think this is important. We know all men’s styles are different. His style is one that I feel can be very effective.”
The 44-year-old Garrett was a backup quarterback behind Troy Aikman from 1993-99. He was the quarterbacks coach in Miami in 2005-06 before rejoining the club in 2007. He’s had the title of assistant head coach since 2008, when he withdrew from other interviews to remain in Dallas. His father, Jim, spent 22 years in the organization, working for every coach but Phillips. Two of Jason’s brothers are on his staff: tight ends coach John and Judd, the director of pro scouting.
“I think he’s very consistent, very to the routine. I like him as a coach,” receiver Miles Austin said. “Hopefully it changes things for the better.”
This leadership handoff wasn’t very smooth.
Jones told Phillips around 1:45 p.m., shortly before players arrived to team headquarters. The story was first reported about that time by KTVT of Dallas-Fort Worth, so many players found out through the media.
About 2:15 p.m., Phillips walked through the hallway near team headquarters and said nothing was going on, that he was just going to check on injured players; he indeed went to the training room. Players finally heard it officially from Jerry and Stephen Jones around 3 p.m.
“It feels terrible that it has gotten to that point at the midpoint of the season,” quarterback Jon Kitna said. “We have a chance to do something about it going forward. But it doesn’t change magically overnight. … I’ve said it since I got here — this is the most talented team I’ve been around. But talent isn’t the only ingredient.”
Defensive players took it even more personally because they worked closest with Phillips.
Jay Ratliff went from a backup defensive lineman under Parcells to Pro Bowl nose tackle under Phillips, so he was especially upset. Asked what went wrong, he said, “Nobody knows.”
“We fought like hell for him,” Ratliff said. “Things just didn’t go our way.”
Just about everything has gone wrong this half-season. The constant has been mindless mistakes: penalties, turnovers and other breakdowns befitting an expansion team, not one of the highest-paid rosters in the NFL. Phillips couldn’t get them to snap them out of it. He tried being loyal instead of benching the guys who were underperforming the most. That only seemed to make things worse.
Phillips’ career record as a coach with Dallas, Denver and Buffalo is 79-57, but only 1-5 in the postseason. He had only one losing record in eight full seasons. Counting a 3-4 mark over two stints as an interim coach, Phillips has 82 regular-season wins, matching the total of his father, former Houston and New Orleans coach Bum Phillips.
Speculation will persist on the club’s next permanent leader. Obvious candidates include former Super Bowl winners Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden, both working in broadcasting.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.